At least weekly in the Embracing Autism Facebook Community, someone posts about being out of spoons, and another person asks what in the world that means.
See, there’s a thing called “Spoon Theory”, and it’s wildly common in chronic illness, disability, and autism circles.
But if you’ve never heard of Spoon Theory before, it can be super confusing.
Why are all of these people randomly losing their silverware??
So today I’m putting together this quick explanation so that we have a handy link to share every time someone asks us “What is Spoon Theory?”
What is Spoon Theory?
Now it’s important to note, I did not create Spoon Theory, and I’m not a Spoon Theory expert.
I am just an autistic woman who lives with chronic migraines who has benefitted greatly from having a simple and concise way to explain my energy and ability levels on any given day.
Also, I’m sharing my interpretation of Spoon Theory.
You may see it a little bit differently, and that’s totally okay! This is just a general idea of the theory for those who’ve never heard of it before.
The Origins of Spoon Theory
First, I highly recommend you read the entire origin story of Spoon Theory here.
Christine Miserandino was at a diner with her friend trying to explain what it was like to live with lupus.
She handed her friend a collection of spoons and used them as a concrete lesson on what it was like to live a day with lupus.
“I explained that the difference in being sick and being healthy is having to make choices or to consciously think about things when the rest of the world doesn’t have to. The healthy have the luxury of a life without choices, a gift most people take for granted.”
How Does Spoon Theory Apply to Autistics?
But how does Spoon Theory apply to autistics?
Well, autistic people wake up with a set number of spoons.
If we had a meltdown yesterday, or we didn’t sleep well? We wake up with less spoons than normal.
We have to very carefully plan our days in order to conserve our spoons.
And we face unique struggles as we navigate the neurotypical world that takes our spoons at an astronomical rate.
A grocery trip might take multiple spoons because of the sensory overload involved.
An argument with someone on Facebook might wipe us completely out of spoons for the rest of the day.
And we may consistently run on a spoon deficit.
This is why autistic burnout and meltdowns are so common. We are, quite simply, out of spoons.
Why Does Spoon Theory Help?
I love Spoon Theory because it gives our community a common language that explains our daily energy levels in a simple way.
When I tell my husband “I’m out of spoons” he knows that means that I am just done for the day and I need him to take over with the kids.
If we didn’t have that language and understanding, just the conversation explaining to him that I was out of energy and needed his help would take more of the precious energy I had left.
It also helps neurotypicals to understand what their chronically ill or disabled friends and family are facing in a concrete way.
So many times when the autistics in our Embracing Autism community explain Spoon Theory, the parents are in shock with the new understanding they have for their autistic children’s struggles.
And if you’re new to Spoon Theory, I hope that this explanation helps you to see the struggles that the disability and chronic illness communities face on a daily basis in a new way.
PS: I’ve been asked a few times if neurotypicals can use Spoon Theory, and again I’ll say that I am not the end-all-be-all of Spoon Theory.
That said, I think that it’s totally fair for neurotypicals to use Spoon Theory with the understanding that able-bodied, healthy neurotypicals have many, many more spoons than their disabled or chronically ill counterparts.
And if you aren’t already, make sure you join the Embracing Autism Community!
If you loved this post, you might also enjoy…
5 Tips for Making Autistic/Neurotypical Marriages Work
5 Life-Changing Strategies for Parenting With a Migraine
About neurotypicals (NTs) using Spoon Theory (ST): remember that ST was invented by an NT with an autoimmune condition (lupus). We Auties having borrowed a useful analogy from another group cannot reasonably deny anyone else the right to use it. It wasn’t ours to begin with.
Thank you. This is really helpful. It’s such a straight forward way to explain emotions and overloads. I suffer with dyspraxia and struggle with executive functioning and get very overwhelmed at team meetings. I say I just can’t take anymore but people laugh. I think educating them in the spoon theory would help my working life be more tolerable, Thank you!
Thank you for explaining this. I had no idea. I see you write so nicely about this topic and I wonder how you can be autistic? I have a 6 year old son and I am never think that he will be ever to get married because he is barely able to ask me questions about who I am as his mother, I get so sad because he may never be able to write coherently. I know that he is only 6 years, but by now, we know our childs autism spectrum ability. How were you as an autistic child? Did you have delays or were in special education like they put all autistic kids now. I’m sorry I don’t mean to be down about a future that I don’t know the outcome of but I’m always afraid of my kid, so I always wonder how one autistic person (because autism is so many different things to different people living with it, that I can’t find anyone who is like Evan so I can see how will he turn out as an adult.